Shoppers Drug Mart

Shoppers Drug Mart is a wholly owned subsidiary of Loblaw Companies Limited, which itself is a subsidiary of George Weston Limited. It operates drugstores, pharmacies, medical supply stores and beauty boutiques. Its retail chains include Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharmaprix, Shoppers Simply Pharmacy, Pharmaprix Simplement Santé, Wellwise and Murale. It also owns a patient assistance provider and drug distributor (Shoppers Drug Mart Specialty Health Network), a supplier of pharmaceutical products and services for long-term care homes (MediSystem Technologies), and a non-surgical cosmetic clinic (The Beauty Clinic). In 2018, Shoppers Drug Mart operated more than 1,300 stores. It is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.



Shoppers Drug Mart
A Shoppers Drug Mart store at the Aspen Landing shopping centre in Calgary, Alberta. Photo taken in 2015.

Early Years

In the early 1920s, Leon Koffler opened a pharmacy on College Street in Toronto, Ontario. When he died in 1941, his teenaged son, Murray, took over the business. The two Koffler’s Drug Store locations used the self-service model of supermarkets: customers could pick products from shelves rather than wait for a clerk.

Leon Koffler, 1939

Responding to the growth of Toronto’s suburbs after the Second World War, Murray Koffler opened his first suburban store at York Mills Shopping Plaza in North York in 1953. To grow the business, he developed a franchising system in which each store was owned by a licensed pharmacist. In exchange for a royalty fee, each store received advertising and marketing support.

Kofzug was its primary product and Mart connoted the supermarket model. Within a few years, Koffler rebranded all the company’s stores as Shoppers. Koffler also wrote the chain’s early advertising. His ads stressed that Shoppers’ low overhead costs and bulk buying practices allowed the stores to pass savings on to customers. He revived Life Brand, which he had briefly used for a line of men’s toiletries during the late 1940s, as Shoppers’ private label.

Murray Koffler

Murray Koffler with his Aunt Anne outside his father's College Street Store, ca. 1927. 

Expansion

In 1968, Shoppers Drug Mart merged with the Plaza Drug Stores chain and grew from 19 to 52 stores. The first stores outside Ontario opened in Moncton, New Brunswick in 1969. Shoppers entered Western Canada in 1971, buying 87 Cunningham Drug Stores in Alberta and British Columbia. In 1972, Shoppers partnered with supermarket and discount department store operator Steinberg Inc. to launch the Pharmaprix chain in Quebec (Steinberg owned its portion until 1980). Shoppers expanded into the United States in 1974, when it opened a store in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. That year, it also bought 28 stores in Ontario and the Maritimes from Lord’s Chemists.

During this expansion period, Shoppers claimed several firsts in the pharmacy business. It became the first Canadian chain to use tamper-proof caps for prescription bottles and, in 1971, the first to openly display condoms on self-serve shelves. Its Consumer Health Education Centres offered medical and nutritional pamphlets in dedicated sections of its stores.

In 1978, Shoppers and its 364 stores were sold to Imasco Ltd., a Montreal-based conglomerate whose core business was Imperial Tobacco. Koffler remained with Shoppers as its chairman until 1986, when he became honorary chairman. Reusing the Shoppers logo, Koffler’s family started the Super-Pharm drugstore chain in Israel in 1978. Further acquisitions under Imasco’s ownership included two Ontario-based drug store chains, Super X Drugs (1986, 76 stores) and Big V (1995, 135 stores), as well as Saskatchewan-based Pinder’s Drugs (1992). Imasco merged Shoppers’ 32 American stores into its Peoples Drug division in 1985.

In the 1980s, Shoppers experimented with new formats. Between 1984 and 1989, it operated the Howie’s discount food and drug chain. Howie’s competed with supermarket chains and other retailers who introduced superstores that combined groceries and drugs, such as Hy and Zel’s and Real Canadian Superstore. Shoppers introduced Shoppers Drug Mart Food Basket (which offered a larger selection of groceries) and medical equipment retailer Shoppers Drug Mart Home Health Care Centre (now Wellwise). In 1987, Shoppers opened its first two 24-hour stores and its first in-store Canada Post outlet.

American actress Bea Arthur served as Shoppers’ spokesperson in a national television campaign between 1984 and 1991. Her appeal to customers was her “no-nonsense image,” according to company president David Bloom. The commercials used the slogan “Everything You Want in a Drug Store.” They aired at the time Arthur was reviving her acting career on the American TV sitcom The Golden Girls.

New Ownership, New Programs

In 1999, Imasco’s majority owner, British American Tobacco, bought out the company and began breaking up its assets. In 2000, it sold Shoppers to a group including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and global investment firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Bain Capital for $2.55 billion. The new owners took the company public, listing it on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol SC in 2001.

The chain introduced the Shoppers Optimum loyalty rewards program in 2000. Optimum attracted 6 million members in its first year and had 9.5 million members by 2010. The program gave customers points for most in-store purchases. Customers could redeem these points as discounts on future purchases.

During the mid-2000s, Shoppers enlarged many of its locations to offer a wider variety of products, especially cosmetics. It introduced the first BeautyBOUTIQUE sections within stores in 2003. Five years later, Shoppers launched the Murale luxury beauty chain. By 2009, cosmetics made up 20 per cent of sales. On the pharmacy side of the business, the Simply Pharmacy chain launched in 2007. It consists of small stores located inside medical buildings and clinics.

Shoppers Drug Mart
Inside a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Toronto, Ontario. Photo taken in 2013.

Purchase by Loblaw

In March 2014, George Weston Ltd. acquired Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.4 billion and delisted it from the TSX. Shoppers became a separate division of Loblaw and began to stock President’s Choice and No Name products alongside its Life brand items, as well as more fresh foods in select stores. The deal helped Loblaw more than double its profit in the last quarter of 2014 compared to the same quarter the previous year. In February 2018, Loblaw merged the Shoppers Optimum program with Loblaw’s PC Plus program to create PC Optimum.


Key Terms: Shoppers Drug Mart

Acquisition

When one company takes over the ownership or control of another.

Assets

Resources, such as property or other possessions, with economic value.

Conglomerate

A corporation composed of several different companies that have merged.

Merger

The combining of two or more companies into one.

Overhead costs

The expenses of running a business, not including the costs of labour. Examples include rent and marketing.

Royalty fee

A sum that a franchisee (the owner of an individual store) pays to the franchiser (owner of the chain) for the right to operate the store.

Further Reading

  • Frank Rasky, Just a Simple Pharmacist: The Story of Murray Koffler, Builder of the Shoppers Drug Mart Empire (1988).